from: offside: definition of interfering with play is playing or touching the ball

Have you received one of the new 50 pence pieces in your change yet? These feature various Olympic sports on the rear, to honour the fact that the games are being held in England this summer. One thing I like about the Olympics is that they are a showplace for many minor sports that are seldom otherwise seen and to be honest I’ve never seen football as an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, it is included on the back of one of the new 50 pence pieces, which furthermore tries to explain the offside law. Unfortunately, it only reinforces the misunderstanding that many people already have, including, if Brian McDermott is anything to go by, some football managers. It shows two attackers, one has the words not offside and the other offside. It would have been helpful if that wording had read Offside Position. The Laws of the Game have always said that it is not an offence to be in an offside position, long before the slight changes of 1995. Those changes and the interpretations that followed have in my opinion made the whole offside law much clearer. This was highlighted in Reading’s defeat by Hull City. The Law says that a player in an offside position should only be penalised if he interferes with play, interferes with an opponent or gains an advantage from being there. The definition of interfering with play is playing or touching the ball. This means of course that no matter how close to the ball the player in an offside position may be, unless he actually touches it he should not be given offside. There is one exception to this which I will come to later. In the Reading v Hull game the player in an offside position did not play the ball but a team mate ran through from an onside position and then ran with the ball while the offside player looked on. Brian McDermott, whilst accepting the referee’s explanation after the game said he had never heard of this directive and wondered whether other people had. But it is not a directive; it is the interpretation that has been in the law book for years. Some complained that the player, who was offside when the pass was made, ran with the onside player and therefore interfered with the goalkeeper by distracting him. There are two points here. The first, is that once the onside player touched the ball, the offside situation was over, they were then into the next phase of play. The other point is that the interpretation of interfering with an opponent is preventing an opponent from playing the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or by making a gesture or movement, which in the opinion of the referee deceives or distracts the opponent. In other words it is an offence if an offside player blocks the view of the goalkeeper when a team mate shoots at goal or, as an example, an offside player jumps with an opponent for the ball, as he is clearly interfering with him. Gaining an advantage in an offside position is interpreted only as playing a ball that has rebounded from the goalpost, crossbar or opponent (usually the goalkeeper). Brain McDermott said that his players have been penalised when they have run after a ball without reaching it to play it. The only time this can happen, is if no one except the offside player could reach the ball. There is no point in wasting time waiting for him to reach and play the ball before flagging. This was obviously not the case in the Reading/Hull game Others have said that the offside player distracted the defenders who thought he would be given offside and stood there with their arms upraised. All I can say to that is what happened to the old footballing adage – play to the whistle.

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